“Tangled” is Disney finally coming into their own in the modern all computer generated era. You could see the visual style developing in “Bolt”, but this is truly where it feels like a formula has been perfected, one which we’ll see again and again. And again.
This is Disney playing to their classic strengths, that is, musically adapting a princess fairytale. “Rapunzel” is one of the more famous too. The story here is that a magic flower is used to save a queen during childbirth. Her child (voiced by Mandy Moore) is born with golden magic hair as a result, and an old woman who knew the secret of this magic kidnaps her and spirits her away to a tall tower hidden in the forest. She raises the child on her own, lying to her constantly about loving her and wanting to protect her, all the while she leeches off her power to remain young and beautiful. That’s messed up, and it makes Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) one of the better Disney villains in a long time. She’s so passive aggressive with Rapunzel, constantly teasing her and making her feel bad about herself as a means of controlling her.
One day, wanting to see the lantern lighting ceremony in the kingdom, Rapunzel runs off with a thief called Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) who happened upon her tower. After this, it’s more or less what you’d expect. They bond, there are a lot of wacky musical shenanigans, a bit of romance, a bit of conflict, etc.
The music and score were done by Alan Menken, who turns in some of his better stuff in recent years, though there’s nothing really that stands out on its own. The barroom number is kinda fun, and the recurring “Mother Knows Best” villain song is pretty good, but for the most part all the songs are forgettable, but suitable to the tone and the characters. They’re light, fun, and evenly distributed throughout the story. It never feels like there’s one too many or not enough, an issue some of their more recent musicals suffered from. It’s not among Menken’s best, but it’s far and away better than his more recent attempts.
There’s a lot of humor in the story, but nothing that feels overly forced. Rather than rely on nonstop jokes and references, most of the humor here comes from the characters as they are. Rapunzel is sheltered and excitable, prone to big expressions and hasty actions, while Flynn, the thief, is your basic clever rogue type. He’s funny and not entirely trustworthy, but inside he’s got a heart. It’s basic stuff. There’s also an insane horse and Rapunzel has a little pet chameleon, but they don’t speak and are mostly there for sight gags and added visual humor. Not necessary to the story, but hardly a pain to watch.
The strengths come from the lighthearted tone of the story and the likeable protagonists. They develop a romance and each has clear and understandable arcs to develop. It’s fun to watch them get into trouble and fight or sing their way out of it. The animation is also a major improvement since their last CG film. To match the tone and musical nature, everything in “Tangled” is bright and colorful. Lots of vibrant energy to all the scenes and many busy sequences that isn’t distracting to the eye. From the bustling kingdom during the festival to the barroom full of ruffians and cutthroats, there’s a lot to look at and appreciate. The character animations are charming and cartoony, and a lot of fun is had with Rapuzel’s massive train of hair. Sometimes it’s used for fighting, other times, as a tool for swinging around, and they even figure out a braid system for her to realistically walk around with (although you have to wonder how much all that hair weighs).
“Tangled” is clearly the way of the future for Disney. In it they found the right way to tell a story, the right look for the animation, and the appeal of classic musicals. Granted, this is something they used to know really well, but it took a long time for them to figure it out again in the modern era of American animation.